Saturday, February 17, 2018

Chicago, the Musical, at the Embassy Theatre in Fort Wayne made Valentine's Day Special

It's been days since we saw the musical Chicago, and we're still singing the songs from it. Who can resist "Cell Block Tango", in which the six female jailbirds line up their cane chairs and seductively sing, "he had it coming"? The libretto is so good, one ends up rooting for the murderesses. After the stories that each lady tells in her part of the song, you know their guys were just asking for it. The victims had it coming and these ladies snapped!

Chicago is a light-hearted look at the heady times of an all-American era gone by. The Jazz Age, with liquor, loose morals, and guns ablaze, is all glamorized. Dripping with sensuous choreography by the late Bob Fosse and his protégé, Ann Reinking, Chicago is luscious, lascivious, sentimental, and thought-provoking. The Broadway-style play is tons better than the movie version - of course, because it was written for the stage.

In the glorious Embassy Theatre in downtown Fort Wayne, time stands still. Two nights of the traveling production of this show seems to have sold out. It's such a joy to gaze around at the old touches restored in the theater: the art deco lighting and painted molding, plush fabrics, charming old bathrooms and fixtures. See it while you can, people - classic theatres such as this won't be around forever.

Jennifer Fouche gave a thrilling rendition of the song "When you're Good to Mama" in the role of Matron Morton. Her range, her gutteral power, her scat and vocalizing were fascinating. She held the crowd in the palm of her hand. Queen Latifa played this role wonderfully in the popular movie, but she didn't have the chops of this actress. Kudos, Miss Fouche. You rocked it.

Give 'em the old "Razzle Dazzle" was performed with great polish by the dapper Brent Barrett. I felt as though I could see his blue eyes sparkling and his white teeth glinting from Row R, more than 20 rows back. (Orchestra seats are numbered separately). I remembered how fun it was to see Richard Gere tap dance during this song in the movie version. If you like him, Q. Latifa, Renee Zellweger, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, you might want to find this film on Netflix, Redbox or your cable or satellite provider.

One of my new favorite numbers is the song "Mister Cellophane." Performed brilliantly in the film version by John C. Reilly, the versatile, chameleon-like yet underrated actor, this number is a nod to the awkward, introverted, not-picture-perfect version of so many of us in modern society who feel outcast and isolated. Reilly was buff and fit in the movie version, although he was covered in dust, hole-y gloves and oversized shoes to make him look more like a sad clown/bum/slob/working man (the character is a mechanic in the role). In the Fort Wayne production, Roxy's husband is played by Paul Vogt, who brings much nuance to the part. Unapologetically large and heavy, his bulk brings great meaning to the lyrics of this song. How can the largest amongst us in society pass by us so invisibly? How can someone so huge move around as if he doesn't exist? Obesity is a current national health crisis, yet many of the so-called obese go through their days ostracized. I love when Amos pulls on his white gloves and seemingly dances with his jazz hands in dark lighting, vaudeville style. So all-American, so poignant and so brilliant.

Needless to say, I loved Chicago, and how scenes changed on the nearly bare stage without the need for lots of props and sets. The orchestra sat in a band stand on the stage, and so was part of the show. The Embassy does a great job with concessions. Lots of snacks and drinks are available, including alcohol (maximum two drinks per customer). There are plenty of lines set up, which minimizes waiting. If you have a chance to see a show there, don't miss out. The Embassy is trending in Fort Wayne, and deservedly so, after all the effort and renovation that has gone into it. For us, it was truly a Valentine's Day to remember.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Pembroke Bakery and Cafe at 300 E Main has Tasty Vegan and Kosher-friendly Options

In the beautiful Auer Center across from the Fort Wayne Museum of Art is the sweet and savory Pembroke Bakery and Cafe. This center houses many important organizations, including Fort Wayne Trails, The Fort Wayne Ballet, Artlink Art Gallery, and the impressive ArtsLab theater.

It's so nice to see an independent cafe in this location. A lovely blue sky mural with clouds graces one wall, and sunny yellow paint adorns another. The cafe is open 10 or 11 - 8 Tuesday through Friday, 9 - 6 Saturday, and noon - 5 Sunday. Many items are vegan, gluten free, and/or kosher. They do include "carnivore" fare and lots of sweets, treats, and sodas.

There are hand rolled, kettle boiled bagels, large cinnamon rolls, brownies, cookies and doughnuts. Daily lunch specials are posted on Facebook. They also offer bakery gift baskets and pastry boxes which require 24-hour notice when ordering. Also available for pickup are sheet cakes and spinach quiche.

The cluck sandwich is a house made chickpea and wheat cutlet with lettuce, tomatoes, and vegan mayo on a house-made bun. It's a meaty, juicy, crunchy way of feeling indulgent and health-conscious at the same time. The Roman pizza is a flatbread with vegan tofu sausage, white bean and garlic purée, and a tomato-basil relish.

I had a vegan Rueben sandwich with traditional pickled cabbage and a non-dairy cheese. They were out of the homemade Thousand Island Dressing (which I missed), but their homemade mayo was pleasing enough. My dining companions enjoyed a hearty vegetable soup with tons of different veggies, and one had a gluten-free brownie. Delish!

Pembroke uses soy-free vegan margarine and sustainably harvested palm oil. They are proud to support local farmers whenever possible, and believe in fresh, fair, and sustainable practices at all times. Next time I'm going back to try some of their coffee.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Faustus by Shakespearemachine

There is a beautiful three-sided stage in the multi-purpose arts building across from the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. It also contains gallery space, the offices of Fort Wayne Trails, and a coffee shop. It's next door to the Park Place Building (on the other corner of Barr Street and Main).
In the photo above, I reveal just our heads, because the selfie is not important - but, the brilliant acting by the Shakespearemachine company, is.

Faustus is the story of a German genius who makes a deal with the devil. Faustus is bored with the limits of his academic studies and wants to learn about magic and necromancy (black magic). He urges his assistant, Wagner, to conjure and bring out dark spirits. Eventually, the servant of Lucifer, named Mephistophilis, is brought before him. Faustus signs a deal with the devil for him to be bound to Mephistophilis for twenty-four long years. For this, he receives unlimited power. He has second thoughts, but the temptation of jewels, riches, and other luxuries intoxicate him, and prolong his struggle with good versus evil. He indulges himself and goes on a twenty-four year reign of terror; binging, sexing, and otherwise indulging in self-destructive behavior.

Our local cast put on an amazing performance. Chase Francis was absolutely transformed into his role of Faustus. He memorized an amazing cadre of lines, and stumbled not a single moment. Voice wonderful, presence electric, his brilliant physicality was unmatched. The perfect antagonist was Halee Brant as the henchman of the devil: Mephistophilis. She commanded the room in this role, and took on a part as lead puppeteer to dramatize the seven deadly sins: greed, sloth, gluttony, rage, envy, lasciviousness and pride, (although I may not have remembered them all correctly). Ms. Brant was a skilled puppeteer and played all her parts seamlessly.

There were only six actors in the Shakespearemachine performance. They switched from part to part with no noise. We were thrilled to see them arising from under the stage, running in and out of the stage wings, and appearing from doors in the back stage wall. They even came out from trap doors under the stage floor. Each was unrecognizable in a constantly parading change of masks and costumes.

Nick Tash was an inspired director and lighting designer. Simple lamps lit performers so their silhouettes appeared as giants. Floor lamps doubled as instruments for simulated masturbation. Books lit up until they seemed to be objects from a dark world, luring subjects into hell. A hooded and masked Alex Volz accompanied the show with 'Muzak'- actually, the heavy metal, electric guitar version of such.

It was a wonderful performance by a half-dozen local actors playing all the parts, with cast and crew adding to the body count. Playwright Christopher Marlowe was a contemporary of William Shakepeare. Son of a Canterbury shoemaker, he received a Master of Arts degree and became a dramatist to give the other greats of his time - pause. For much of his life, Marlowe was thought to be a spy for Queen Elizabeth I. Later, he was charged for a crime for which he could be put to death: atheism and blasphemy. He died at the tender age of 29, having been stabbed over a tavern bill.

Perhaps had Marlowe lived longer, he would have given the Bard a serious run for the money. Yet, it is considered even with his young death, Marlowe influenced Shakespeare greatly. We know we loved this company's mind blowing production of Faustus, and can't wait to see their production of Macbeth in November of 2018.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Road Trip of a Lifetime - Off to Kentucky to View the Eclipse Totality

Although the Fort Wayne, Indiana area was destined to see a partial eclipse of the sun in August of 2017, I wanted to be able to see a total eclipse. So, I made plans to drive far enough south that I could take off my eclipse glasses and see the "wedding ring" or corona when the moon completely covered the sun. The sun's rays poking out around the moon in a total eclipse are also described as the 'diamond ring effect' and the ring of fire. This was the stuff of which legends were made. The United States wouldn't see another total eclipse until the year 2024, so it was time to seize the moment.

As early as April or May, I began pouring over maps that laid out the path of absolute eclipse totality across the United States. Although I'm familiar with Carbondale and Makanda, Illinois, to there would be a farther drive than to somewhere straight south. Those areas were also getting a lot of news coverage, so I thought traffic from Chicago to southern Illinois would be bad. Traffic jams were being predicted all over the ranges of the totality anyway, so probably no where was safe from tons of folks and cars.

I chose Franklin, KY, as our viewing site, and had to reserve a motel room in Bowling Green, which was about a half-hour drive away. Everything closer was booked. The day before the eclipse, on Sunday, my partner and I drove out past Indianapolis, Columbus IN, Louisville KY, Elizabethtown, and Mammoth Caves before stopping in Bowling Green. We would have booked a tour of Mammoth Caves since we were going right by there, but there was no availability. Our little motel was near the highway and a Corvette museum. There was also a Corvette factory nearby, which was good to see from an economic perspective.

We got up early the next morning, picked up some more food and water from a grocery store, and headed to our envisioned viewing site. Franklin KY is a town of about 8400 off of Interstate 65 and Route 100. I had read that the main venue for viewing there was supposed to be the drive-in theater, with scientists from Pasadena and other remote locales attending and setting up their telescopes. And as far as the whole trip, although Google maps reported it would take 5 1/2 hours travel time, it was actually much slower with road construction and lots of traffic. Hence, patience is a virtue and perhaps a requirement when driving to and from an eclipse event.

We found ourselves setting up camp at Freedom Pavilion near the boat ramp at West Fork Drakes Creek. We met people who had driven from Ontario, Canada, Indiana, and Ohio. One man had set up his canvas shade with frame and offered to share it along with him and his dog. He was from Dayton and had come alone - he said his wife was a school teacher and couldn't get away. We met some locals, and a young man that attached his hammock to a telephone pole and his truck. He said he had recently graduated from Purdue University and was on his way back from a trip to New Orleans.

It was a hot August day, so we decided to kill some time by taking a dip in the creek. There was no designated swimming area and the boat ramp was taken over by families with fishing tackle, so we figured we were going to have to bushwhack our way to the water. We changed into swimming suits and walked down a weedy, overrun path to the stream. Pushing out through a muddy, mucky bottom, we were finally free and floating downstream. The water was comfortably cool and we paddled around, enjoying ourselves as we commented about the fishing line hung up in the overhead power line. "What an out-of-control cast!", one of us said.

So, we dried off, killed some more time, chatted, snacked, and then: the murmur built through the crowd. "It's starting!" We put on our eclipse glasses and looked up at the sun. The glasses make everything so dark, it's impossible to see anything else through them. Then, there it was: the black moon taking a bite out of the orange sun. The darkness started to surreally creep into the sky, little by little. The breeze became cooler. The insects and birds seemed to vocalize about the same where we were, although we were told their sounds might intensify. People looked through telescopes and binoculars if they had the right filters. Some folks ineffectively tried to take cell phone photos, but this proved impossible without the correct equipment.

As the sky slowly got darker and darker, the existing light became more eerie. Apparently the moon blocking most of the sun's light serves to focus and intensify what still gets through. So shadows are strangely sharp even though the light is low. As totality approached, I was very excited and my partner was very calm. People began to cheer as the sun disappeared from the strong daylight. The cool came with a rush as the sky got dark as twilight. A few faint stars appeared, as did lights of planes filming high overhead. The whine of a couple drones could be heard in our area, as I'm sure they were filming the event as well.

Then, the big moment came: we took off our glasses. The site was beautiful and strangely surreal. The gaseous corona was sharply white at the edge of the black moon, with feathery wisps trailing off. It was magnificent. It made a human feel very small, just tiny in the space of things. Yet, it also helped one see his place in the universe, and was rewarding to experience and witness this kind of natural, eternal greatness. It seemed a two-and-half minutes suspended in time, for posterity.

As quick as it began, it was over, and the sun started to come back out. People began to pack up their stuff and start to leave, hoping to get ahead of traffic. Sadly, most of them would soon find themselves stuck on the long treks down the highways. But hopefully for most, the unpleasant crowd memories would quickly begin to fade, leaving the image of the bites of sun, and the beautiful white ring, surrounding the perfect black circle of our constant companion and friend moon - forever imprinted in our minds, hearts and dreams. It's a day I hope never to forget. For me, all the effort was worth it.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Japanese Culture Highlighted at Allen County Downtown Public Library Festival

To help celebrate the United States' bicentennial in 1976, Mayor Ivan Lebamoff appointed a local committee to explore a sister-city relationship with Fort Wayne and an unknown, far-off city. Howard Chapman chaired the first committee.

Working through Sister Cities International, Fort Wayne learned Takaoka, Japan, was looking for a similar relationship, and might be a good match. A small delegation from Takaoka visited Fort Wayne to explore an alliance. In 1977, new Mayor Robert Armstrong led a team of 50 people to see Takaoka, and then sign an official agreement formalizing the alliance.

Dorothy Kittaka, current president of Sister Cities, said recently Japanese gardeners were sent to Fort Wayne in '77 with a master plan to construct a traditional Japenese garden. It was intended as a gift to 'the fort' and as a gesture of goodwill. It was constructed on the east side of the Performing Arts Center, near the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. It was a lovely garden, but local gardeners didn't have the experience to maintain it correctly, and it languished.

Advice was sought from Japan about correcting the aesthetics, and Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation staff trimmed and nurtured this Friendship Garden. The first local Cherry Blossom festival was held in 2006 to highlight the renewed garden and to celebrate Japanese culture and the sister-city relationship.

A few years ago, the festival was moved to the downtown library to take advantage of some indoor space for increased activites. This year, May 7 marked the 11th year of the festival. Activites include dancing, martial arts demonstrations, taiko drumming, and tea ceremonies. Origami, bonsai trees, t-shirts and kimonos are for sale, and Japanese food is very popular at the festival. There are competitions for anime (cartoon-like art), haiku poetry, and cosplay (people dressing up in character costumes).

Thousands of people attend the festival now, and it becomes pleasantly crowded. It's so fun to see both locals and foreigners dressed up in kimonos, marital arts costumes, and as furry animal characters. The event has a lovely, playful, international feel. Activities indoors and out make it all the more fun. Music includes classical, traditional, instrumental and vocal, pop and even karaoke acts.

Kites, flags and balloons ride the wind overhead during the festival. This was the 40th year Fort Wayne has had a relationship with its first sister city, and the affection of this beneficial arrangement only seems to grow with time.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Holocaust Remembrance Day Featured Historian Stephen Feinberg at one of Fort Wayne's Temples

"Remember - lest we forget, and from this we learned nothing." This phrase was the title of the talk given by Stephen Feinberg, a former employee of the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. He has been a history teacher, author of books about the Holocaust, and is a Jewish history education expert. He spoke recently at the Fort Wayne temple on Old Mill Road as part of a public service for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

37 years ago, Congress unanimously passed a bill proclaiming April 24 as a day of national remembrance of the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of six million European Jews and others at the hands of Nazi Germany. The temple on Old Mill Road, in a beautiful neighborhood near Foster Park on Fort Wayne's south side, is home to the Congregation Achduth Vesholom. In the literature provided, it is stated this congregation is Indiana's oldest of such, first established in 1848.

Mr. Feinberg proved to be a vibrant and sensitive speaker, providing detailed information with nuance and finding relevant context to the present time. One of his themes of focus was technology: how uses of such can be for bad, as well as good, purposes. He said, for example, that the invention and then use of punch cards in the early 1900's allowed not only the United States to streamline its census process, but also for Nazi bureaucrats to swiftly identify Jews by their reported religion and country of origin.

His story wove together a confluence, a perfect storm (although I would rather say a very imperfect storm) of congruent events which led to the rise of Nazism and the subsequent murder of millions of people. Feinberg said of course, not only Jews were murdered, but first mentally and physically disabled Germans themselves, in concentration camp gas chambers. Some were simply starved or shot instead. Other groups deemed unworthy, including homosexuals, gypsies, and people of "undesirable" nations, were also singled out for death.

Mr. Feinberg spoke about factors such as a long-term history of anti-semitism in Europe, and the growth of nationalism, militarism, and industrialism, as contributing to how these atrocities came together. Unemployment and the collapse of the stock market and German currency, all led to Hitler's rise under this disillusionment by German citizens. Between 1933 - 1943, Jews and others were deprived of their rights, Czechoslovakia and Poland were invaded, and World War II started. Mass factory-style murders were conducted in killing centers, but Allied Forces finally defeated German (and Japanese) forces, and camps were liberated by the end of the war in 1945.

It was heartening to see the participation by student groups at this public event of recognition and remembrance. Classes from West Noble Middle School, Wayne New Tech High School, and New Haven High School all had art and research projects on display at the reception following. Some of these can be seen in the photos above.

The music group Heartland Sings performed songs from the Holocaust Cantana, and also music featured in the film Schindler's List. Poignant, piercing music rose from a cellist and a soprano soloist, who made her voice soar in the synagogue. Other local luminaries including Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer contributed to the program, as did Dr. Patricia Rodda from the IPFW Institue for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

A new center for Jewish culture and history will be opened at the site, in conjunction with the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, the temple itself, and other partners. A grand opening for the new Madge Rothschild Resource Center will be held Sunday, April 30, beginning at 2 p.m. The center will house a library available to the public, a memorial museum, and meeting space. Philanthropist Rothschild was the last direct descendant, a great-grandchild, of one of the families who founded the synagogue in 1848.

What impressed me, or what was reinforced, was a lesson in how important it is at times to not stand back and be silent. It's applicable today in everything from national politics and corporate whistle-blowing, to schoolyard and Internet bullying. One of the last quotes shared at the gathering was one by the genius Allbert Einstein. He said, "the world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Redbud Trees are One of the Best Spring Gifts in Indiana

At this time in April, I see the sight I have been long awaiting: the tiniest glint of pink, glowing from the dark-barked trees. The glow and glory increases a little each day until by now, the redbuds radiate their soft colors - sometimes more pink or purple, sometimes more rosy, magenta, or garnet.

Redbuds are different from other ornamental trees. Lovely fruit trees, or dwarf flowering trees and bushes, are often pruned and given symmetrical shapes. There's nothing wrong with that. But the often short, twisted trunks, and spreading branches of the redbuds have so much character and individuality. They are often hiding on the edge of wooded areas, or taking advantage of the shade underneath a large fir or spruce. They grace the creek beds and river edges in my area.

If you were to pick a route in northern Allen County this time of year, you would see a lot of them. St. Joe Road driving north out of Fort Wayne would be a good way to go to spy some. I also see many along North Clinton Street between Leo and Fort Wayne, and along Tonkel Road, especially near the creeks and streams.

Only Oklahoma claims the redbud to be its state tree. That's ok - I might claim it to be my personal tree mascot. The dark bark starts smooth, then as the tree gets older the bark may get scaly and ridged: even zigzag. I think they grow slowly, but tree literature describes the growth pattern as medium. Redbuds usually only grow to be 20-30 feet tall, and have a 30-foot spread at the crown on a large tree.

A ten-year-old tree might be sixteen feet tall. After flowering, simple leaves come out heart-shaped. They begin green and turn yellow in the fall. Pods, brown pea pods, erupt in August or so, and some birds eat them, or eat bugs they find on the bark. Sometimes the red flowers even pop out on the trunks or stems of the tree. Regular bees aren't able to pollenate redbuds, but carpenter bees and blueberry bees do.

I find these trees fascinating. Their trunks often divide close to the ground. The crowns may be funnel shaped or are often flat-topped. Something I read reported they are a tree of the pea family, which makes sense considering their long brown seed pods. George Washington wrote in his diary about transplanting seedlings into his garden from nearby forests. It makes me feel good to know our first President thought so highly of them.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt loved the trees also: he planted them both at his "little White House" in Warm Springs, Georgia, and at his estate in Hyde Park, New York. Cercis canadensis (redbuds' Latin name) doesn't grow west of Kansas: it needs the precipitation of the East and Midwestern U.S. I will gaze and gaze, finding a wonderful sight to treasure, linger upon and absorb in our flighty, distracted world. Nature such as this is so beautiful, and can bring us so much joy and gratitude. Some treasures are just out there, waiting to be enjoyed.